The cold temperatures and long dark hours that are our lot in mid-winter can take a heavy toll on the human heart. When the sun shone brightly on a recent Sunday afternoon, we fled the winter confines of the house and busied ourselves cleaning up what winter rubbish we could wrest from the pockets of snow still lurking in the northern corners of our world. The light, and the warmth, were gone too soon.
With little snow to hide the barrenness of the winter landscape, even the daylight hours can contribute to the words of darkness that seem to hold forth from November through March.
Doubt. Despair. Despondency. Depression. Desperation. Distress.
In varying amounts, I dare say many of us are more familiar with these words than we might care to admit. For some it is, in fact, a seasonal disorder. Once the sun spends more time up than down, once the temperatures moderate so that the layers of winter wear can be left behind, their moods lift and the dreary D's of winter become the delightful V's of summer.
Vitality. Vigor. Vibrancy. Virility. Vividness. Vivacious.
For others, however, the seasons don't matter. They reside in a darkness that is not dispersed by sunshiny days or tropical temperatures.
It has been said that cold temperatures merely reflect the lack of heat and that darkness represents only the absence of light. If true, then Jesus' words, "how great is that darkness" convey an especially troubling heart condition.
"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matthew 6:22 and 23)
Dark words reside in hearts darkened by the darkness that surrounds us all, until all light within has been consumed.
When I rearranged the living-room furniture during my December "staycation" Boo Boo Kitty made himself scarce. He loathes the vacuum cleaner and always greets it with puffed fur and a courageous hiss before turning tail and heading for the basement. I was whipping that machine in and out of corners too long neglected and the process consumed the entire day.
When the dust finally settled and the vacuum cleaner was tucked back into its corner behind the office door, Boo Boo tentatively made his way out of the basement, into an entirely different landscape.
It stopped him dead in his tracks. In his nine years of life, the TV has always been positioned on the diagonal in the northwest corner. The end tables have always sandwiched the flowery couch along the north wall and the primary sofa has always faced due west, the coffee table positioned directly in front of it. Suddenly, nothing was anywhere close to where it was supposed to be, least of all his favorite window perches, which changed as the day progressed, following the course of the sun.
Thankfully, Boo Boo didn't run back into the gloomy basement, but sat himself down in front of me, his expression clearly asking, "What have you done to my world?"
I told him the same thing I told Danny, who hates it when I rearrange the furniture, "You'll get used to it, eventually."
And eventually, he did. They both did, although it took Boo Boo several sunshiny days to reconfigure his daily migration from one warm, bright spot to the next one, his need for warmth and light providing the impetus for the daunting task. Thankfully, Danny adjusted much more quickly.
The dreadful Ds all find their root cause in the biggest D of all, that old serpent, the Devil. These are the tools of his trade and he wields them well.
At the first hint of light, he redoubles his efforts, doing his best to keep his victims locked in dungeons of darkness and despair, blinding them to the glory revealed through the light of love. And all too often, he is successful, hence Jesus' mournful words recorded in John 3:19 "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil."
Is faith the automatic antidote to doubt, despair, despondency, depression, desperation and distress? If only that were so. If only it was that easy.
Coming through a thankfully temporary, thankfully much-abbreviated recent season of darkness, I shared my struggle with Danny. He nodded in understanding, having faced many dark days himself and then, in his own inimitable fashion summed it all up, pointing at his forehead, saying,"You stop him in your mind," then pointing to his chest, "so he cannot infect your heart."
The days ahead are filled with much darkness, the waning winter season notwithstanding. How thankful I am to know that we are only called to live in the day called "today" and to know that on this day, our Father in heaven is teaching us what we're going to need to know, tomorrow, if only we will sit at the feet of his Son long enough each day to learn it. An hour on Sunday morning won't do it. An "arrow prayer" when catastrophe looms is of little long-term value. Our need for light must compel us onward.
And, if we fail to recognize the gravity of our situation, our true peril, there is yet another D word to define our fate: Deceived.
"Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour." 1 Peter 5:8 (NIV)
I don't have all the answers, but I know the One who does. Let's walk together for awhile and discover Him; together.